Texas records highest single-day Covid-19 death toll
From CNN's Raja Razek
Texas reported 129 new Covid-19-related deaths today, a record single-day high, according to the Texas Health and Human Services.
The previous record, 110 deaths in a single day, was recorded on Wednesday.
The total number of Covid-19-related deaths in the state stands at 3,561.
Texas reported 10,291 new Covid-19 cases Thursday, bringing the total number to 292,656.
To note: These figures were released by the Texas Health and Human Services and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University and the Covid Tracking Project.
5:07 p.m. ET, July 16, 2020
Utah governor announces a surge in Covid-19 cases while schools remain poised to reopen
From CNN’s Nakia McNabb
Gov. Gary Herbert discussed on Thursday Utah's surge in Covid-19 cases and revealed that hospitals are nearing capacity.
Utah state epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn reported that 246 new Covid-19 cases were diagnosed this week, bringing the state's total positive cases to 31,845.
Herbert pleaded with the residents of Utah to wear masks but stopped short of making it a requirement.
“The fact that people are doing this really on a mostly voluntary basis is encouraging. The state statute or constitution allows me and our state health department, in fact, to make these things mandatory. I much prefer us doing it on a voluntary basis, not because government is compelling you to do it, but do it because you have respect and love for your neighbor, you show that by wearing your face coverings when you cannot social distance for example, doing it for the right reasons is the right way to do it," Herbert said.
The governor also confirmed plans to reopen Utah public schools statewide and discussed an order that requires mask wearing for students, teachers, staff and visitors to any public education system, charter school or private school in Utah.
Herbert is also requiring all 41 school districts to have a Covid-19 plan in place by August 1.
“It's imperative I think that we open our schools. We cannot afford to have schools closed. This generation needs to have education and training and skills development, hopefully to get them on to higher education opportunities," the governor said.
4:56 p.m. ET, July 16, 2020
There will be no cruises until late September, CDC says
From CNN's Jacqueline Howard
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has extended its "No Sail Order and Suspension of Further Embarkation" for cruise ships until September 30, according to the agency's website. The website was updated with the extension on Thursday.
The order remains in effect until September 30, or until the expiration of the US Department of Health and Human Services' declaration that Covid-19 constitutes a public health emergency, or the director of the CDC rescinds or modifies the order.
In March, the CDC announced on its website, "The CDC Director has reason to believe that cruise ship travel may continue to introduce, transmit, or spread COVID-19. As such, the CDC Director issued a No Sail Order for cruise ships."
The CDC previously extended its original order until July 24 before now extending it again.
5:02 p.m. ET, July 16, 2020
Louisiana governor says mask mandate remains in effect
From CNN’s Andy Rose
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said everyone in his state is still expected to wear a mask in indoor public spaces even after the attorney general said the rule is likely unconstitutional.
“I think the attorney general's opinion was wrong on many fronts. Every front, actually,” the governor said during a news briefing Thursday.
Attorney General Jeff Landry released an opinion Wednesday saying the mask mandate and closure of bars was unnecessary and too vague to be constitutional.
Edwards reminded citizens that the opinion was advisory and does not strike down his orders.
“The order that I issued on Monday is in effect. It is binding. It is mandatory,” Edwards said.
Landry posted on Facebook Wednesday in response to the governor’s initial criticism of his decision.
"Governor, it's important to keep people healthy; it's also important to keep them free," he wrote.
The governor said it’s not legally required nor wise to wait until the state’s intensive care unit hospital beds are full before putting restrictions into place.
“If you wait until the numbers show that you’re imminent in terms of overrunning your capacity to deliver health care, you’ve waited too late," Edwards added.
5:18 p.m. ET, July 16, 2020
Savannah mayor in response to suspension of local mask mandates: "Our order still stands"
Savannah, Georgia, Mayor Van Johnson said he was "furious" and "at a loss for words" when he heard Gov. Brian Kemp was suspending all local government mask mandates despite the rise in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in the state.
"Not only are we fighting coronavirus on one hand, it appears as if we're fighting our state on the other hand. It made absolutely no sense to me," Johnson told CNN on Thursday.
Some context: Kemp's executive order voids masks mandates imposed by some local governments. It also extended the state's public emergency and said face coverings are "strongly encouraged," but not required.
Savannah was the first city in Georgia to mandate masks, Johnson said.
He said he will continue to enforce the mask mandate in the city saying, "our order still stands."
"This just really handcuffs us and it's really not the time to be fighting each other. We should be focused on fighting this virus," Johnson said.
He said he has heard from business owners that they appreciate the mask mandate because it provides them with legal cover to refuse service to someone who won't wear a mask.
But, Johnson said the most important reason why masks are so important, is because they are a proven way to stop the spread of the virus.
"We're going to do all we can to make sure we protect our citizens. This is what this is all about. It has nothing to do with politics. It's about protecting our folks," he said.
4:42 p.m. ET, July 16, 2020
Masks, closing indoor bars and other measures can avert more shutdowns, HHS official says
From CNN's Jen Christensen
Widespread mask use and staying out of crowded bars and restaurants can help avert the need to close down communities again to stop the spread of coronavirus, a senior Health and Human Services Department official said Thursday.
Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said communities can act when cases of the virus start to spike.
“In the hot zones, we really need like almost 90% of people to be wearing masks out in the public when they’re interacting with other people,” Giroir said at an HHS briefing.
Giroir added that areas with a high number of new cases also need to close indoor bars and limit restaurant dining capacity to 25%.
“We know that 50 to 60 to 70% in some areas are traced to a single bar, and then the secondary spread from that. Being indoors in close quarters over a long period of time is just a recipe for spread,” Giroir said.
Outdoor seating with appropriate distancing is “probably safe,” even when cases are spiking in areas. Staying out of crowds is essential, he said.
“If we have that degree of compliance with these simple measures, our models say that’s really as good as shutting it down,” Giroir said. “These simple facts can really shut down the outbreak without completely shutting down your local area.”
4:31 p.m. ET, July 16, 2020
The US is better equipped to deal with Covid-19 now, HHS official says
From CNN’s Jen Christensen
Admiral Brett Giroir, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said Thursday that even with a giant surge in coronavirus cases, the US is better equipped to handle outbreaks than when the pandemic first started.
Better testing and better treatments have both improved the outlook, Giroir said at a briefing hosted by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Giroir said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention teams are on the ground in every state and HHS has sent special Covid response assistance teams to hotspots to help with testing and mitigation.
On testing: He said the country also now has enough testing in place that can quickly show when there is a new outbreak so that public health staff and local leaders can intervene. Parts of the country have reported long lines and several days delays in people getting test results, but Giroir characterized those problems as an “outlier.”
“Even in the large commercial labs, and we follow this every single day, there may be an outlier that’s 10 days or 12 days, we can’t deny that that happens,” Giroir said. He said wants test results back as fast as possible, but a three-day turnaround time is “very reasonable.”
Commercial labs have said they are backed up, with results often taking as long as seven days to turn around.
“I’m never going to say that I’m happy with any turnaround time, Giroir said. “We’ll continue to work to improve that as we move forward," he later added.
Giroir added that tests alone cannot stop the pandemic.
“You cannot test your way out of this, no matter where you are. Testing is important, but you’ve got to close the bars in a hot zone, limit restaurant seating, please wear a mask in public, avoid public gatherings of greater than 10 or 25 or whatever it is in your local area without appropriate protections,” Giroir said. “The way to fix the “testing problem” is by fixing the virus problem. These go hand-in-hand.”
4:37 p.m. ET, July 16, 2020
New Hampshire to give $25 million in Covid-19 aid to state universities and community colleges
From CNN's Hollie Silverman
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announced $25 million in additional aid for state universities and community colleges in the state in response to Covid-19 on Thursday.
Sununu said state universities will receive $19 million to help universities support their coronavirus response as students return to campus in the fall. The funding will be used for costs associated with testing, personal protective equipment and additional supplies needed to respond to the health crisis.
The university system already outlined their anticipated costs and requested funding from the state, Sununu said.
New Hampshire will also give $6 million to community colleges to help with tuition support for new and existing students whose ability to attend may have been impacted by Covid-19, the governor said.
4:28 p.m. ET, July 16, 2020
Pennsylvania releases new guidance for school reopenings
From CNN's Evan Simko-Bednarski
When schools in Pennsylvania reopen, face coverings will be mandatory, but the extent of in-person instruction in the state will be dependent on Covid-19 data, Health Secretary Rachel Levine and Education Secretary Pedro Rivera said during a joint call on Thursday.
"There's no-one-size-fits-all approach to opening every school in the state," Rivera said.
While reopening plans are being developed on the municipal level, the state is set to release guidelines for reopening on Thursday. Those guidelines will include a heavy emphasis on face coverings, as well as guidance on hygiene, distancing, considerations for staff or students with chronic conditions, and the monitoring of potential Covid-19 symptoms, Levine said.
When asked if the state could overrule any municipal decision to reopen, neither Levine nor Rivera answered directly.
Levine said that the state would "do everything we need to do to protect the public health." Rivera said data would drive any future decisions.
Levine said that taking steps now to limit the spread of the disease would make for the safest environment in which to reopen schools in the fall.
"There are things that people can do right now to actually help our kids get back to the classroom," she said.
The state's guidelines include a requirement that parents screen students for symptoms at the start of each school day, open school bus windows when the weather allows, staggered class times, one-way hallway travel, and six feet of distance between students whenever possible.